Sunday, May 29, 2011

Free journalism? Well... Sometimes you DON'T get what you pay for.

Rainey, LATimes.. On the Media: The price of 'free' journalism

If you don't care to read it, the thing is focussed on the recent sale of Huffington Post and the subsequent complaint by its writer/bloggers that they got nothing for their content input that made Arianna Huffington a lot of money.
Implicit is the concept that perhaps content is worth more than what was directly paid for it. Interesting. Especially that this was published at nearly the same time as the NYT paid grudging respect to Matt Drudge, acknowledging that he is still very much the arbiter of what is news and what is not. IOW, most of the paid press reads him and puts their fingers in the wind accordingly. I hope everyone sees the irony there.

Contrary to the writer's apparent point, I contend that there are three forms of 'news' information: opinion, certifiable opinion, and factual rebuttal.
- non-factual rebuttal falling into 'opinion' category.

Opinion as provided by HuffPo, is just that, one person's (or publication's) opinion. And you know what they say about 'Opinions.. everyone's got one, just like...'  If HuffPo was forced to pay for content, that might be a good thing, in the big picture.  Folks that write dross that's easily refuted might be shed to protect the overall reputation.

Certified {not to say 'paid'} Opinion on the other hand, is more like legal publishing; ALL the pertinent factual information is addressed. You don't go to court on precedent supplied by Google search, or Drudge or even free internet caselaw. That would be Lexis/Nexis or Westlaw.  Or Bloomberg on stock performances and Corporate Reports.

Free factual rebuttal is exactly what the internet bloggers are best at.
- Ask Dan Rather.. oh, wait dont. He's a 'victim' you see!  Ask the 'scientists' at UEA on Climategate.  The fraud of 'Global Warming' has been well and truly exposed almost exclusively on the 'net. By people doing it for FREE!

OTHER than that, you PAY for vital information and indeed that is how the internet is now shaking out. What once was more or less free.. like the on line white pages, is now only readily available for a fee.  Did anyone seriously expect it to be otherwise? Who is going to pay for factual verification of someone's name, address and phone number?

Standards and Practices
News and journalistic standards used to be such that you could count on the front page to be a factual uncolored account. Who, What, When Where, and why or how. The latter being certifiable facts behind the issue or event. And the 'why or how facts' mostly disappeared from news reports sometime in the late sixties or seventies. Some say because of USAToday. I say EVEN BEFORE that in  my local paper.

We held the Wall Street Journal in high regard then, because it continued providing the factual background. The Opinion pages and sometimes Features were colored by POV, the news was generally not.

I refuse the premise that the only useful opinion is that which is compensated, at any rate. Going back to when dead tree news was still king, the publication might publish any sort of nonsense or opinion that it wanted to... whether on the Front, Editorial or Op-ed pages.

And that is why we also read the Letters to Editor. Once in a while or often, depending on the publication's journalistic standards, those letters presented facts that devastatingly rebutted the compensated professional's viewpoint. That content was free, and whether it's on the net article comments or printed on the pulpwood, it always will be supplied free of charge by the writer, who is usually more knowledgeable on the given subject or issue.

I appreciate the content providers for HuffPo wanting to be paid and submit that HuffPo certainly had the ability to gauge the value of the content to its readers and pay accordingly but what those writers should understand is that their credentials have nothing to do with the value of their content in the eyes of the general public. And Arianna's apparent hypocrisy on the subject is beside the point.

Paid Writing - Free Music? Does Not Compute!
However.. since a few of those same writers advocated that the net should allow free dissemination of other creative product, such as music and video, I think it rings hollow.
As does the idea that HuffPo is popular for its original content. The only value I see in it is argument against viewpoints published elsewhere and LINKED. Thus it goes one step, perhaps, beyond Drudge or even Instapundit.

Meanwhile NYT has re-erected its pay wall, trying to put a price on access to Dowd, Krugman et al. They brag of 100,000 subscribers in the first week. I don't care. I can find the same opinions in Washington Post or the Guardian or the Independent. Only some of the NYT Features have original content other than crass opinion. And most political opinion there has to pass through its editorial board to match their publisher's whims. In doing that they open themselves up to charges -by 'free' writers- of crass biases.

But the most important thing is that, paywall, writer compensation or not, the Media can't hide behind 'value of content' and force those who can rebut them to do the same thing.

Fair or not, the market decides.. for now, anyway.  That is the beauty of the 'net.